It’s loosely strung around her search for Gattino, a kitten she reluctantly rescues in Italy and brings home to the US, where he promptly vanishes. As winter bites, she leaves trails of food and falls prey to magical thinking, even psychics. Gattino’s disappearance stirs up anxieties about other relationships, too, and the complexities of coping with her difficult late father and of taking two young inner-city siblings under her wing soon become part of an arresting meditation on the nature of love.
Mary Gaitskill’s Lost Cat is a slim, sorrowful book about the loss of a slim, scrappy animal — except it’s about much more than that, of course. Really, it’s a look at how pain can be displaced: unmanageable grief can be suppressed more or less successfully for years, only to re-emerge unexpectedly elsewhere — in this case, bobbing to the surface when a new pet goes missing... Gaitskill’s self-portrait feels resolutely honest rather than flattering; her efforts to find Gattino read as increasingly unhinged, and we are with her when she questions the appropriateness of her interventions in the children’s lives. But what she describes — the relentless human hope that love can fix what has gone before — can be recognised by us all.
Woven into this narrative of loss are two further stories complementary in theme: the death of Gaitskill’s father, and the fostering of two inner-city children, Caesar and sister Natalia, by Gaitskill and her husband Peter. In the hands of a lesser writer, so many threads might be difficult to pull together. But Gaitskill is no ordinary writer. Lost Cat is a beautifully paced treatise on the human need for love and the damage we do to ourselves in its reckless pursuit. There isn’t a trace of sentimentality. The trauma of loss is related in stark, original prose that leaves you wanting to underline most of the book.
I read this haunting book-length essay in single sitting. It relates how Gaitskill rescued a stray cat in Italy and brought it to live with her in the US. After a few short months, Gattino went missing. Exploring the unexpected grief that this loss engenders, she also reflects on the two inner-city children she came to foster, and the result is an affecting meditation on loss and love. The first non-fiction by Gaitskill to be published in the UK: her novel Bad Behaviour was reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic last year, and two more are due out this month.